The path ahead wouldn’t always be so pleasant but in March of 1947, a slight smile crossed his face as he touched home plate after hitting a home run for the Montreal Royals. Cuba was a fairly welcoming place and the Army veteran was getting the opportunity to showcase his baseball skills in front of other big league players, coaches and managers.
Soon he’d be their peer as a seismic sports event played out on major league diamonds across the National League.
The remarkable photo, taken by a Cuban photographer, is making its debut as one of the premier items in RMY Auctions’ February online catalog. Measuring 4 ¾ x 7 inches, the image remains in good condition with the photographer’s stamp and Robinson’s name written in pencil on the back. RMY calls it “one of the most socially and historically important images we have ever had the pleasure of offering.”
Branch Rickey had organized the Brooklyn Dodgers’ spring training camp in Cuba in part to help his top prospect. Black players had been playing in Cuba for many years and Rickey knew Robinson would face less harassment from fans and less scrutiny from the public. The Dodgers had trained in Cuba in 1941 and ’42 before wartime travel restrictions put an end to the idea.
Still, there were issues. Some of Robinson’s future teammates on the Dodgers were not excited about the prospect of having a black teammate, an uprising quickly squashed by manager Leo Durocher. Robinson and three other African-American players on Montreal’s roster—Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Roy Partlow– stayed in separate spring quarters from the rest of the team.
Robinson would be a popular subject of photographers after he was added to the major league roster and made his debut at Ebbets Field in April of 1947, but images from the weeks prior to his historic debut are very limited in number.
The silver gelatin photo is one of over 1,400 historic images in the auction, which runs through January 25.